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|Huston Street successfully converted his final 18 save opportunities in 2005.|
Street, 22, has great stuff, and had great numbers in 2005: 23 saves in 27 tries, a 1.72 ERA, 53 hits allowed, 26 walks and 72 strikeouts in 78 1/3 innings. He became one of seven pitchers to save 10 games in a season before he turned 22, joining Terry Forster, Byung-Hyun Kim, Kelvim Escobar, Victor Cruz, Lloyd Allen and Bart Johnson. There's a good chance that Street will wind up having a better career than any of those previous six.
Good genes and great athleticism can go a long way. Street is the son of James Street, who was the quarterback on the University of Texas national championship team in 1969 (Huston was a very good high school football player. There wasn't any baseball burnout with him. "When baseball ended,'' he said, "I didn't pick up a baseball for months. I played other sports.'')
Great makeup and intelligence can help, too. He and his father used to watch Greg Maddux pitch on television, marveling at a master at work. When Huston went to spring training this year for the first time with the A's, he vowed to meet Maddux. "I kind of hung around him [on the field during batting practice] until someone introduced me. There was no way he'd know who I was,'' Street said. Street was summarily impressed, and immediately afterwards, called his father, "Dad," Huston said, "he's amazing. He's like a scientist.''
Everyone knows who Street is now, but that wasn't the case early in the season when he was 21 years old, looked 15, and was one of the rookie set-up guys for Oakland closer Octavio Dotel. "I was standing down the right-field line one day during batting practice, I forget where, and one of the guys on the other team, I don't remember who, yelled 'Hey, ball boy,''' Street said, with a smile. "I looked at him and he said it again 'Hey, ball boy.' I told him that I was a player. He apologized to me.''
It was an honest mistake. Street does look young, and he's not very tall -- barely 6 feet -- for a pitcher. "Even my girlfriend gives me a hard time about that,'' Street said. "People tell me I don't look like a pitcher, that I'm too small to be a pitcher. But they've got part of it all wrong. I don't weigh 170 pounds. I weigh 195 pounds.''
That is much smaller than Ryan Howard, the Phillies' 260-pound first baseman who already has drawn comparisons to, among others, David Ortiz. Howard batted .288 with 22 home runs and 63 RBIs in 317 at-bats, most of which came after replacing the injured Jim Thome. Howard slugged .567, highest on the Phillies, and nearly 100 points higher than teammate Bobby Abreu. Howard's power was well-known throughout his minor-league years, and it is now clear in the major leagues.
|“||He has unbelievable raw strength, as good as I've seen on a young kid in a long time. He absolutely crushes the ball down in the zone. ”|
|— A scout on Ryan Howard|
"He has unbelievable raw strength, as good as I've seen on a young kid in a long time,'' one scout said. "He absolutely crushes the ball down in the zone.''
To win the Rookie of the Year with only 317 at-bats is unusual, especially in a year in which runner-up Willy Taveras played the entire season for a playoff team. But, there is precedent. In 1959, Willie McCovey was the unanimous winner of the National League Rookie of the Year despite playing in only 52 games, having 192 at-bats and 38 RBI (he did bat .354). In 1978, Bob Horner was drafted, walked off the Arizona State campus and hit 23 home runs and drove in 63 runs in 323 at-bats for the Braves to win the NL Rookie of the Year.
One difference is that Horner struck out only 42 times that year, and Howard struck out 100 times in his 317 at-bats. The other concern about Howard is that he hit only .148 with one home run in 61 at-bats against left-handers. But he is so strong, and is such a good kid, there's no question, according to the Phillies, that he will work to strengthen his game. They like him so much, they have already tried to trade Thome, and likely will continue to do so.
To look to trade a player who is on his way to 500 career home runs is quite a compliment to Howard. But that's how remarkable a talent he is. And so, too, is Huston Street.
Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.